The Son Who Stayed, Redux

This morning, in a motel room outside of Kansas City, I re-read Meddlesome’s post, “What Happened to the Son Who Stayed?” In many ways, that post and the discussion and posts that followed seem to have set the tone for the Junto’s approach to discussing Pope Francis—a tone that, I continue to worry, is at times not spiritually healthy for us.

It’s not that I don’t share the Junto’s concerns about the confusion that has been caused around the Church’s teachings on marriage or find the Pope’s treatment of various cardinals baffling. (And I’ve ceased to try to make sense of the Vatican’s approach to communications, which reminds me of my previous employer’s tendency sometimes to be “too cute by half” in its efforts to control stories in an age in which facts, opinions, rumors, and misdirection are encouraged to romp freely by media on all sides.) My bigger concern remains that, since we don’t know the all the facts or see all the ends, we become less and less charitable toward our Holy Father and succumb to the pride of self-righteousness

This concern came to an internal head with me the other day, when me and another member of our merry band were conversing. I was (per usual) grasping for bright spots in the media coverage of the pope and the cardinals ahead of the synod, and noted that Cardinal Burke had been reappointed to the Curia. This news was followed by a typical, shared, “yeah-but” session in which the two of us acknowledged how this reappointment is not the same as never having been removed from his original position in the first place. (In our defense, even the story above points out that his new assignment is to an office that is encouraged not to communicate too much to avoid causing speculation. Keep him close and keep him quiet?)

I began thinking about Cardinal Burke’s position, not just in the Curia, but during the synod last fall, and about a comment Didymus has made more than once in the past year: “Souls are at stake.” I then began to play devil’s advocate. Whereas Cardinal Marx is a leader among Catholics who are already drifting or well astray of Catholic orthodoxy, Cardinal Burke is a hero among orthodox, faithful Catholics. Marx’s brand of divisiveness will have no impact on those of us who already know the Church’s doctrine, but Burke’s will – he’s one of the outspoken leaders traditional Catholics follow on their own march to heresy and schism. I am emphatically not suggesting this is Burke’s intent – but regardless of his intent, the cost in faithful souls could potentially be more severe.

I don’t know what Pope Francis hopes to accomplish with this synod, or his recent encyclical, or any of the Vatican’s media statements. I know that we, as a group, have indicated our strong preference for popes who are brilliant in thought, precise is writing, and circumspect in speech – and that is not our current Holy Father. But I also know so many Catholics who aren’t us and who love him and relate to him in a way they never did to his predecessors. What are we missing?

On the Forming Intentional Disciples forum, Sherry Weddell (who, with the Catherine of Siena Institute, also helped to develop the Called & Gifted charism assessment) recently had this to say:

At every Called & Gifted workshop, I teach that all charisms are healing because they all make God’s love present in their own way and where God’s love is present, healing occurs. Pope Francis seems to have a charism of mercy that addresses the suffering of people, (which is different from physical illness – it is all the anger, fear, loss of control, loss of hope and dignity, etc that comes with being illl or rejected or homeless) a charism which is usually expressed in direct, hands-on service to those who suffer. But I’ve heard stories from those with this charism that they can just enter the room of the suffering person and although they haven’t said or done anything yet, the person experiences great relief.

Scripture says that people used to bring their sick out onto the street so that St. Peter’s shadow might fall on them and they would be healed. This woman, who has borne such grief and sorrow since 9/11 was healed today by just watching Pope Francis pass by in Central Park. The video is powerful and only 48 seconds long.

Praised be Jesus Christ! Now and Forever!

My point, if you would permit me to suggest I have one in this ramble, is that perhaps we are really behaving like the son who stayed – so bewildered by a merciful Holy Father whose approach to (and effect on) sinners is so unlike anything we’ve seen or expected that our hearts rebel. Have we been slapped and dismissed for our years of service? (Prolife activist Dr. Gerard Nadal emphatically suggests otherwise.) Or like the dutiful brother, are we excluding ourselves from the feast out of a sense of pride and injustice?

I had the pleasure this afternoon of attending daily Mass with my family at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Kansas City. In today’s gospel, Jesus says, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” I listened to the first half of that statement, and my heart swelled with the knowledge that I am with our Lord on the issues tearing at the fabric of family and society today. Moments later it fell as Father delivered the second half of Christ’s warning. Jesus came not to call the righteous, but sinners. Am I gathering with Him? Or in seeking to justify myself as a good Catholic am I scattering His flock?

I have no answers – only a disconcerting feeling that my attitude toward our Holy Father and those faithful sinners and unbelievers who feel powerfully drawn to him has been simplistic and uncharitable, showing little hope in the love and mercy of God.


  1. Dad says:

    I totally understand this dillema. I think about it a lot myself, especially when I have been wronged or i see others being wronged. I often see the relationship with Jesus discussion used today in a fashion for a liscense to sin. What society are we building if we completely accept all things the same. I am not sure this is what christianity is about. Yet the need for repentence and forgiveness is of the utmost need. Where do we fight the battle for a good and when or what is completely acceptable. I continue to believe living for Christ means to follow his ways of goodness. Thus I preach what is good should be sought after in our daily lives especially to the benifit of others.

  2. Timshel says:

    …and yet every day, some new report comes out that suggests conspiracy and schism in the works. So hard to stay positive. St. Joseph, patron of the universal Church, pray for us, that we may be one Body under one Head, Jesus Christ our Lord.

  3. Didymus says:

    St. Catherine of Siena wrote in her Dialogue that when we are tempted to judge another person we should pray “Today it is your turn; tomorrow it will be mine unless divine grace holds me up.” So true, and so hard!

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